Does Matchbox Twenty Agree With Critics?

It was Paul Doucette, North Huntingdon native and Matchbox Twenty drummer, who wore the homemade T-shirt that read "Cool Bands Don't Sell Records" for a Spin magazine cover story.

It was a clever way for the band to poke fun of its own image as a mainstream rock band that spends more time on the charts than the Top 10 lists.

Doucette -- who understands the praise that's lavished on bands like Wilco and Radiohead -- isn't offended by the critical consensus on Matchbox Twenty.

"I think it's justified," he says in a phone interview. "There's a thing about our band, an unconscious thing of 'Please like us, look how nice we are.' There was an insecurity to it. That's what our music was about, at least our recorded music. And that's so not us."

He says of making the first two Matchbox Twenty records, "We would record them, then not listen to them. Then read the reviews and go back and say, 'Oh, that's why they said that.' "

Regardless of what critics and music geeks think of Matchbox Twenty, the band has had no problem winning fans. The quintet formed in Orlando, Fla., in 1996 during the waning days of the Seattle era when the radio-friendly sound was shifting toward lighter bands like Counting Crows, Hootie & the Blowfish and the Wallflowers.

Doucette, who had been living in Orlando, answered a newspaper ad for a drummer who was into R.E.M., Van Morrison and the Jayhawks. Doucette adds, to no one's surprise, that singer-songwriter Rob Thomas was listening to a lot of Counting Crows at the time.

"When I met Rob," Doucette says, "I heard his voice and thought, 'This is going to be a great voice.' I didn't see Rob and think, 'There's my ticket.' But I thought he could sing really well. He had a couple good songs and a couple 'like, whoa, they aren't very good.' But '3 A.M.' was one of them and I knew that was catchy. Our expectations at the time were that we would get drunk, have fun and see where it goes."

The band's Atlantic debut, "Yourself or Someone Like You," never topped the charts, but on the strength of "Push," "3 A.M.," "Real World" and "Back 2 Good," it sold a staggering 12 million copies in the States and another 8 million worldwide.

Thomas solidified his own standing in ' 99 by co-writing with Carlos Santana the summer hit "Smooth," which won him three Grammys. Matchbox Twenty returned the next year with "Mad Season," a more fussy studio album that produced three more hits -- "If You're Gone," "Mad Season" and "Bent" -- and four more million in sales.

After almost two solid years of touring, the band scattered in late 2001 before regrouping again for the tribute to Willie Nelson in Nashville, where they started the process of the third album.

"It was cool. Kyle [Cook, the guitarist] had just had a baby, literally a couple days before, so he was in a different head space," Doucette says. "But all of us had been working for other people or working on our own stuff -- Rob had been working with Mick Jagger. So it was a wide range of people, and when we came back together, we had a lot more to offer. I think that was surprising to everyone."

The approach on "More Than You Think You Are" was to shoot for a record that sounded more live-in-the-studio, and despite the names of the first two singles, "Disease" and "Unwell," Matchbox Twenty is feeling just fine.

"We wanted to take the gloss off of it," he says of the third record. "'Mad Season' got out of hand. We wanted to capture what we think we sound like live. The first record didn't do it, 'Mad Season' didn't do it. When we play live, we're different than what we sound like on record. We can rock as much as anyone." They'll do that tonight on Doucette's home turf of Mellon Arena, where he recalls his first concert was Van Halen in 1986.

"I'm playing places where I grew up seeing shows," Doucette says. "I've gotten drunk in the parking lot there many times."

WITH: Sugar Ray, Maroon 5.
WHERE: Mellon Arena.
WHEN: 8 tonight.
TICKETS: $36.75-$44. 412-323-1919.